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  • Sarah Rose

Overcoming Scarcity

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

In 2008, both my parents lost their jobs. It was the height of the recession, and it was nobody's fault, really. At least, nobody we could name. I was a sophomore in high school, and I was needlessly bratty. Stubborn and single-minded. All I wanted to do was run and go to school and pretend to know everything. Money was not something I thought much about. I made a little money during the summer, but I knew nothing about the realities of work, mortgages, credit cards, interest rates, or (God forbid) taxes. 2008 was not a great year for a lot of people. For me, 2008 was probably the first time I thought about money at all, and it was definitely the first time I worried about it.

Fighting about money is one of the top reasons couples separate and divorce. Worrying about money is more common than not in America, with 64 percent of people living paycheck to paycheck, inflation soaring and wages slow to keep up. The initial worry I felt during the 2008 recession wouldn't disappear though.

I went to a private university on a full scholarship. Since I was an athlete, my tuition and books were paid for, and the elimination of student debt was, and continues to be, an enormous blessing. Many kids on my team and in my school didn't grow up like I did, though. Many were from wealthy suburbs of Chicago. Many didn't work. Many didn't need to. Despite my scholarship, I still needed spending money and later, rent money, so I worked a variety of odd jobs. None of them were bad, and all of them taught me things: how to deal with people, how to be ruthlessly detailed, how to balance the cash register at the end of the day, how to make cold calls, how to manage time. I felt odd sometimes, in my knock-off Ugg's and thrift store leggings. But I also enjoyed the busyness of work, school, and training. Sometimes though, I wasn't sure if there was money on my debit card. I didn't have a credit card, and the idea of having one was, in itself, scary. I was worried about money still, and more aware of what it meant to either have it, or not.

When I got my first job, I was making $35,000 a year. I still didn't have a credit card, and barely had $2,000 in my savings account. One day on my way to work, my cars transmission blew out. It cost $2,000 to fix. Less than three weeks later, someone ran a red light and struck my front drivers side, totaling my car. When the check from my insurance company came, it was (you guessed it) $2,000.

Fast forward a few years, and I was living in California in a two bedroom apartment with my ex fiancé. We broke up, and I got the apartment since it was entirely in my name. But then, I had to find someone to live with, and I ended up footing the bill for that apartment and it was candidly, more than one of my two monthly paychecks. There I was, with two degrees and no student debt, still struggling with money. I started dog sitting and freelancing to earn more, certain that if I just had enough, I would stop being scared.

Money can be unsavory to talk about, but it's important. There have been times in my life when I was making good money, and still worried about it. Every dollar I put in my savings account or investment account felt sacred. I live(d) with a constant fear of suddenly having nothing. My therapist called it "scarcity," while I called it "pragmatism." He was right, though. Even now, with a fatter savings account, a growing investment portfolio, and a good job, I still worry about money, albeit less than I once did.

My problem is not that I don't have enough, it's that I'm afraid of not having enough, which is essentially the definition of a scarcity mindset. Having a scarcity mindset results in living in survival mode, a feeling many of us are all to familiar with. You don't have to be poor, or even living paycheck-to-paycheck to feel this way either. Plenty of people with plenty of money want more, sometimes, for no other reason than the fear of having none.

I'm on the cusp of moving in with my boyfriend, and money has resurfaced in new ways. How much of the monthly rent will we each foot, who will pay for electricity, who will pay for groceries. We split the security deposit, and my old, cobwebbed fear resurfaced as I chewed on the numbers. For a long time, I only had to worry about me. My fear of money was quieted because it was all in my control. I knew every cent I spent and what I spent it on. Now, my intense focus on finances wouldn't just affect me though, it would affect him, too.

We talked long and hard about our finances; my fear, his understanding of that fear, and his own challenge to overcome scarcity earlier in his life.

There are plenty of people eager to tell you what to do with your money, how to split it (or not) in relationships, how to invest it, how to spend it. But no one but you will have to live with your brain or your bank account.

The only thing that helped me address my fear of scarcity was talking about it. For a while, the only thing that helped me overcome scarcity was simply earning more, any way I could. Money is not as scary as it seems, and neither is talking about it.

P.S. Listen to the HerMoney podcast by Jean Chatzky, read I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi, or read more about overcoming scarcity mindset here.


Sarah Rose

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